Bob Dylan Uncensored in Beijing, China, April 6, 2011

The times they are a-censored

Image from Washington Post, April 7, 2011

Much is being made of Bob Dylan’s first trip to the People’s Republic of China and the alleged sweeping censorship of his music. The Washington Post and New York Times have gleefully published stories on the PRC’s censorship of protest songs that may have a domestic ringtone from Dylan’s setlist. They conclude that no protest songs were allowed and that the times they are NOT a changin’. I certainly do not approve of censorship, whether it be the Pentagon Papers or the firing of a Keith Olbermann and a Glenn Beck, but I don’t think those who claim communist “silencing of Dylan” have examined carefully the setlist that was brought to the nation’s great capital.

On the setlist appears the epic “A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall.” This was one of the most searing protest songs in the history of music. It was a dramatic denunciation of nuclear war and the pervasive threat of a nuclear exchange between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. The song was actually written with great prescience shortly before the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.  It is true China has been critical of Japan’s nuclear meltdown at Fukushima Daiichi power plant and is obviously concerned about such massive releases of radiation. Yet China is a nuclear power with both atomic and thermonuclear weapons and produces nuclear energy from thirteen nuclear reactors. Its censors were certainly aware that an antinuclear song could have domestic application. In addition, “Hard Rain” contains one of the most dramatic statements of free speech, right of protest and artistic independence ever conceived in lyrical exposition:

And I’ll tell it and think it and speak it and breathe it
And reflect it from the mountain so all souls can see it

Dylan was also allowed to perform “Like A Rolling Stone.” This song was the epitome of protest as Dylan transitioned in 1965 from folk to folk-rock while inventing a new medium of protest. While the song was more of a revolutionary anti-love song than a political statement, nevertheless, it represented a musical revolution that was launched at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival in Rhode Island. The song itself led to near rioting in Britain when Dylan sang there after his Newport folk-rock innovation with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. So while the mainstream liberal press gloats over Dylan’s submission to Chinese censorship, it also happened to him by the way on the Ed Sullivan show, even a cursory examination of the setlist reveals that considerable artistic freedom was permitted.

Here is the setlist from

1. Gonna Change My Way Of Thinking
(Bob on keyboard, Donnie on lap steel)

2. It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue (Bob on guitar, Donnie on pedal steel)

3. Beyond Here Lies Nothin’ (Bob on guitar, Donnie on trumpet)

4. Tangled Up In Blue
(Bob center stage on harp, Donnie on pedal steel, Stu on acoustic guitar)

5. Honest With Me (Bob on keyboard, Donnie on lap steel) 

6.  Simple Twist Of Fate (Bob on guitar, Donnie on pedal steel)

7. Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum (Bob on guitar, Donnie on pedal steel)

8. Love Sick (Bob on keyboard, Donnie on electric mandolin)

9. Rollin’ And Tumblin’ (Bob on keyboard)

10. A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall (Bob on keyboard, Donnie on electric mandolin)

11. Highway 61 Revisited
(Bob on center stage on harp then keyboard, Donnie on lap steel)

12. Spirit On The Water
(Bob on keyboard and harp, Donnie on pedal steel, Tony on standup bass)

13. Thunder On The Mountain (Bob on keyboard, Donnie on lap steel)

14. Ballad Of A Thin Man (Bob center stage on harp, Donnie on lap steel)

(1st encore) 

15. Like A Rolling Stone (Bob on keyboard, Donnie on pedal steel)

16.  All Along The Watchtower (Bob on keyboard then guitar, Donnie on lap steel)

(2nd encore)

17. Forever Young (Bob on keyboard and harp, Donnie on pedal steel)

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